•    Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken   

    Put this on the “must-try” list! If you haven’t eaten at Gus’s, you are missing out! I love their tenders … they are amazingly flavourful and juicy. The staff are friendly and attentive, and as many time as I’ve gotten take-out, it’s always the same great quality. They’re also quick! I can call when I leave my office for lunch, and my order is ready when I walk through the door 10 minutes later. That’s spectacular!

    If you don’t like spicy, Gus’s may not be your thing. They do chicken one way, and yes, that chicken has a bit of a kick. Not too much, kind of like what Justin Wilson used to call “a sticker on your tongue” — just enough that you know it’s there.

    And you have to try the fried pie. I can’t pick a favourite: chocolate? cherry? peach? That sweet little pie is a great way to finish out the meal!

    A note about the Eastgate location, which is the one I go to most: parking is a nightmare and the dining area is very small and crowded. Since I don’t like a hassle of any kind, the fact that I keep coming back here should be a very big clue as to just how good this chicken is.

  •    Friday Tuna, Cordova   

    My family full of picky eaters loves Friday Tuna. I discovered it by accident … I wanted sushi and stopped in while out running errands. I didn’t understand what the host asked me, and ended up at the teppanyaki grill. Let me tell you, that was one amazing and unexpected lunch! Not only did I have a couple of really nice sushi rolls, but the steak and shrimp teppanyaki was fantastic.  (And yes, I had plenty of leftovers to take home!)

    I had such fun that I took my sons, both picky eaters, just so they could enjoy the show. Well, they loved it. The show and the food. So when my younger son turned 18, that’s where he wanted to have his birthday dinner. We gathered the whole extended family (all 14 of us) to celebrate. It was awesome and we really enjoyed the meal. They handled our enormous group, which included 5 children under the age of 6, with skill and competence. The chef even let one of the kids play with one of his props (a squeaker chicken)!

    My niece, apparently, really loved it. (Surprising, because she is an extremely picky eater. She makes my sons look like undiscriminating omnivores.) She asked to go there for her sixth birthday dinner. We couldn’t all be there (weekday night, and work and school interfered), but 8 of us showed up. The meal was great — the scallops and steak melt in your mouth! — and at the end, they brought out an amazing huge birthday dessert of bananas tempura and mango ice cream. It was awesome.

    The people at Friday Tuna totally get customer service, good food, and making meals fun! If you go, ask for “Zay-Zay,” because he is an awesome teppanyaki master!

  •    Go Right, a collection of short stories   

    Sara Roberts Jones has a knack for turning the mundane into the mysterious and intriguing. Who else could take a handful of errands, a savings box linked to a couple’s sex life, a simple canoe trip, or an old man lying on his porch and turn them into compelling short stories that you can’t put down? And just try to pick a favourite. Is it “The Dang Truck,” with its folksy, conversational style and surprising ending? Or is it the story of Uncle Bobby and the surprise-party cake? Or “Intersections,” exploring the odd coincidences that link up the disparate events of our lives in unexpected ways?

    Whichever it is, you will enjoy reading and rereading these fun, fascinating vignettes of the lives of regular people, doing regular things only to find “regular” giving way to “unusual” and “exciting” in unpredictable ways.

    I received a review copy of this book from the author.

  •    Conquering Insulin Resistance Made Easy!   

    Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I am an unapologetic Dana Carpender fangirl. Her recipes never disappoint, and I have always appreciated her ability to explain complex nutritional concepts in a way that the average reader can easily understand. So I was intrigued when I learned of her collaboration with Dr. Rob Thompson on The Insulin Resistance Solution. And I was not disappointed.

    Dr. Thompson, like Ms. Carpender, has a talent for presenting medical information in a layman-friendly, easy to understand way. His analysis of what insulin resistance is and how to reclaim a normal metabolism are probably the best that I have read. Dr. Thompson debunks the “eat less and exercise more” myth of weight loss and explains the best way to activate the specific muscle tissues that can help increase your insulin sensitivity. In addition to the very clear explanations of the various diabetes drugs and what they actually do, I really appreciated the explanation of glycemic load, “the magic number” for weight loss, and the tips for reducing the glycemic load without becoming one of those annoying dieters who makes every social occasion an eating nightmare. The appendix that provides the glycemic load for about a hundred different foods is a really useful resource.

    Ms. Carpender’s recipes are, as always, easy to understand, easy to follow, and undeniably delicious. When you receive your copy, the first thing you should try is the Fudgy Chocolate Whatchamacallit. That recipe alone is worth the price of the book. (And if you are missing your Chex© Party Mix on your low-carb diet, make a batch of Snack Crack. You’ll be glad you did.) I really thought that everything that could be said about eggs had been said, but here you will find some great new ideas, including an amazing chicken and asparagus frittata and a delicious cheese quiche flavored with curry.

  •    Great Addition to the Low-Carb or Ketogenic Library   

    Dana Carpender never disappoints, and with the Fat Fast Cookbook from CarbSmart Press, she hits it out of the park! The first half of the book is packed with information on what a fat fast is, why you’d want to do one, and what you can expect during the process. She emphasizes that this is a short-term solution to a weight-loss problem, and takes care to explain how to transition from the fast fast to a regular low-carb eating regimen.

    And then there are the recipes. From the Mexican Hot Chocolate to the Coconut Flax Bread, there are amazing treats for your taste buds on every page. The recipes are conveniently grouped by fat percentage and include numerous tips on how to incorporate each dish into the fat fast. Fettuccine Alfredo? Jalapeño Poppers? On a diet?! Oh, yes!!

  •    LYFE Kitchen Memphis   

    You only get one chance at a good first impression. Tonight was my first chance to visit the new LYFE Kitchen in Memphis. And I’m disappointed.

    Since it was a Friday night and I arrived a little before 6:30, I expected a crowd. And a wait. In that, I was not disappointed. (No worries. I had a book.) The line moved well, though, and within ten minutes, even though I’d started out at the door, I was placing my order. The place was clean; the cashiers were friendly, the decor was interesting (well, the live herb garden was interesting; the rest was pretty spartan) and the food sounded good. So my first thoughts were fairly positive.

    It was so crowded and so noisy, I decided to get my dinner to go. But I was thirsty, so I ordered a cup of grapefruit juice to drink while I waited for my unfried chicken with roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts, Italian quinoa salad, and chocolate budino. According to my receipt, my order was placed at 6:35.

    I sat down on a surprisingly comfortable bench in front of the herb garden. I took out my book and commenced reading. Since they were so busy, I expected a wait of 15 to 20 minutes. At about 7, I realized that I was brutally thirsty, and I still didn’t have my drink. So I stepped over to the checkstand and asked the young lady who had taken my order if she could check on my grapefruit juice. In less than 5 minutes, she had located it and brought it to me — notably, with a smile and a great attitude.

    I returned to my book, sipping my juice as I read. When I finished the juice, I noticed a server coming off the line with a to-go bag. “To-go order for Tonya.” Not me. About 10 minutes later, another to-go bag comes off the line. “To-go order for Scott.” Again, not me. Ten more minutes go by. It’s now 7:25. I’ve been in the place for an hour and I’m still waiting on a to-go order. I’m trying to decide whether to get up and bother the poor cashier again when she glances over and sees me still sitting there. “Didn’t they bring your order yet?” Well, no, not yet. She smiles and says, “I’m so sorry. Let me go see what’s happened.”

    She’s gone a while. More than 5 minutes. She comes back and asks for my receipt. I hand it to her. She checks the to-go order that’s still sitting in the pick-up area — it’s the one for Tonya. (Whoever Tonya is, she is going to be eating seriously cold food.) She heads back to the line, and I see her gesticulating at the runner who’s been bringing out the to-go orders. A few more minutes go by. She comes back and says that they are preparing my order and it will be a couple of more minutes. About 5 minutes later, the runner brings out my bag and my receipt. “Sorry for the wait. The way she rang it up, we thought it was dine-in.” Okay, that’s fine, I get that. Except that no one, in the hour I’ve been sitting there, has come through with a dine-in order looking for “Editormum.” And I’ve seen and heard them calling other people: “I have a pizza for Jean” … “Are you Tom? I have your hummus.” Not one call for Editormum. But there’s no point in complaining or arguing about it (especially in this noisy place), so I just smile, thank her, and head home.

    At this point, I’m not really disappointed or upset. A teensy bit annoyed, but I know that in a busy kitchen with a long line of incoming orders, confusion happens and, hey, I’ve got my dinner and that is what counts. I get home and unpack my food. (Five-minute drive, which means it shouldn’t affect the food much.)

    First disappointment is the size of the portions. They are reasonable portions, but for the price I paid, I expected more. When I pay $12 for fried chicken, I expect more than a half-breast cutlet. Still, it’s fresh food, and supposedly “clean-sourced,” so I guess that’s where the high sticker-price comes from.

    Second disappointment is that the food that should be hot is stone-cold. Like it’s been sitting at the pass waiting for at least half an hour. The quinoa salad is room temperature. The budino is still slightly chilled.

    Third disappointment is that my “roasted” butternut squash and brussels sprouts are burnt. As in, the outside of most of the pieces is black and crispy. I’ve done roasted brussels myself. They don’t get charred on the outside and stay almost raw on the inside unless you are pan-frying them to hurry them up. I salvaged most of them, but there were a few that were just a total loss. And according to the menu, there should have been dried cranberries and Dijon vinaigrette on my roasted veggies. Nary a cranberry did I find. And there wasn’t even a whole teaspoon of the dressing. I found a tiny smear of it, but it wasn’t enough to even get an idea of whether it was a good flavour or not.

    Fourth disappointment is that the quinoa salad, in addition to being not-cold, is bland. Barely any flavour at all. With all those beautiful herbs growing in the lobby, they couldn’t get some serious flavour in their quinoa? The menu said that this quinoa salad has roasted tomatoes, cucumber, and a garlic-herb vinaigrette. There were no veggies in my quinoa, and mostly it tasted of … boiled quinoa.

    Fifth disappointment is the dry, dry chicken. Not only is it cold. It’s bone-dry. The seasoning is amazing — if it had been hot and juicy, this chicken would have been absolutely amazing. But it’s cold and dry.

    The only thing that was not a disappointment (besides the smiling, pleasant, and attentive cashier) was the chocolate budino. That was an amazing dessert! The pomegranate-chia sauce was the perfect tart foil to the sweet chocolate custard. And the serving size was just right. Even the price was reasonable.

    Now, I try to be fair. I will definitely go back to the Memphis LYFE Kitchen and give them a second chance. If it’s not too noisy and crowded, I’ll eat in. Because I’d love to try that chicken when it’s hot. And there are some other delicious-sounding dishes on the menu that I’d like to have a taste of. But for a first impression, LYFE Kitchen definitely came up short.

  •    Tannoor Grill   

    The boys and I stumbled onto a new place we like to eat tonight … though it’s another of those “HOW MUCH?!” places that we will only be going to on special occasions, since it’s $30/person.

    Tanoor Grill on Germantown Parkway between Trinity and Macon is kind of like a Middle Eastern version of Texas de Brasil, only without the outrageously huge salad bar. The service was fantastic and the food was really, really good!

    After we were seated and had ordered our drinks, the server brought us plates of hummus, tabbouleh, and babaganoush; a salad of romaine, cucumber, and tomato with small pita chips and a dill-yogurt sauce on top; a basket of pita triangles; and bowls of steamed rice and roasted potatoes. The hummus was delicious — not too much garlic, and a drizzle of some kind of chili sauce on top that turned out to be a perfect complement to the lamb. The tabbouleh was good, but a little sharp — a bit too much lemon for my taste. The salad was delicious. The dill sauce was not overwhelming and made a great accent to the vegetables. The babaganoush was one of the better versions I’ve had, not too smoky and nicely creamy.

    Then the skewer-bearing meat servers descended. We had filet mignon, bone-in chicken breast, boneless chicken breast, lamb, sirloin, roast beef, meatballs … they just kept coming. Caleb liked the filet and the boneless chicken best, while Isaac preferred the roast beef. I like the meatballs and boneless chicken best, though the filet and the bone-in breast weren’t out of the running. The lamb was good but, as Caleb said, a bit gamey. I liked it a little better with some of the hummus on top. (Which may not be the orthodox usage for hummus, but I liked it.) When we were all on the point of exploding, we found out that there was dessert! (By the way, they don’t let you box up any leftovers, not even of the salad. I understand why, but I hated to see the waste.)

    Once the entree plates and utensils were cleared, we were given small plates and dessert forks. And a skewer-bearing server brought us grilled pineapple! It was the perfect end to the meal, though we could only eat a couple of slices each. The caramelized finish on the outside contrasted nicely with the bright, crisp flavour of the center of the slices.

    We will definitely return … though it will have to be a special occasion, as a $125 meal is not something we can indulge in on a regular basis.

  •    The Song   

    So … I just got blindsided by a movie. Yeah. I went to the theatre expecting to see the love story of Solomon and the Shulamite translated into modern times. I came out of the theatre having seen a good movie, but definitely not Solomon and the Shulamite. Or Christ and his bride.

    Let me start by saying that this movie is a good family movie if your kids are over 13 or 14. It’s a great movie for couples in good, strong relationships. It would be a good movie for young couples who are thinking about getting married. It is not a safe movie for those in troubled marriages or who are living with the pain of a broken marriage. It’s a tear-jerker, so don’t go expecting happily ever after fun.

    The Song is the story of Jed and Rose King. Jed is the son of a famous musician; Rose is the daughter of a vineyard owner. They meet at a wine-tasting and harvest festival, and the first part of the movie is a beautiful picture of what we used to call courtship: a man finding the woman of his dreams and winning her affections. But after they are married, Jed’s music changes for the better, and he is lured into the typical life of touring. When his exploitative manager brings in a new opening act and launches the artists on a long-term series of tours, all hell breaks loose. Literally. The rest of the movie is about Jed’s descent into depravity and his eventual redemption.

    Artistically, it’s a good movie. The acting is competent, occasionally brilliant. The staging, costuming, and effects are excellent. Though the plot line is predictable, it’s a good story well told. The interweaving of narration of verses from Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon adds interest and poignancy. And while there was clear reference to the Christian gospel, it wasn’t overwhelming or overdone.

    Overall, I liked The Song. It’s not what I expected based on the advertisements I saw, but it was a good movie, nevertheless. And it definitely sparked some good conversation with my teenage sons.

  •    The Book Place   

    How have I not reviewed this place already? I have been shopping at The Book Place for just about forever! Well, better late than never, right?

    The Book Place is my first stop when I clean out my paperback shelves to make room for new stuff, or when I need to replace a reading copy of an old favorite. They don’t do hardbacks, so this is more of a store for omnivorous readers, not for collectors.

    What do they have? Well, really, what don’t they have? There’s a lot of romance and pop fiction (think Harlequin, Danielle Steele, James Patterson), but there are also quite a lot of the older, more esoteric authors in the mystery and sci-fi genres (think Marsh, James, McCaffrey). There’s a well-stocked section of classics and literature (such as you’d be required to read in a high school or college course), a very good section of Christian romance (all those Western and Amish girls!), and a very nice children’s/youth section (with far more than Twilight and Harry Potter. I’ve found some sweet favourites there!). Pretty sure that they have the paranormal, western, and chick-lit sections covered , too … though those aren’t my usual fare.

    The Book Place is also my first stop for books on CD, because their used audio-book selection is second-to-none in my area. I’ve scored a lot of great titles here, and I love the fact that I can try stuff out inexpensively before I invest a lot in a new book.

    The ladies on staff are fabulous. Very friendly, customer-oriented, and quite savvy with the “if you like this author, you might also like ….” advice. They have directed me to several authors I had never considered but promptly fell in love with. They also know their stock. I’ve been able to find specific needs very quickly with their help.

  •    Daily Minyan: An Adult Perspective   

    It is probably very strange for a 45-year-old shikse to review a book intended for Jewish men. But the premise intrigued me: praying meaningfully and appropriately for your age and stage of life. Let the liturgy and the rules of prayer draw you into a deeper and more intellectual spiritual experience.

    For readers unfamiliar with Jewish religious practice, a brief explanation is in order. Jewish men — at least the more devout and Orthodox ones — meet to pray for about twenty minutes thrice a day. They use a specific set of prayers (using a prayer book, or siddur) and must comprise a group of at least ten men who have reached the age of 13 (a minyan).

    Rabbi Grunstein noticed that many adults still prayed as they had upon graduating from Hebrew school in their youth. They seemed disconnected from the inner experience of prayer, and often acted as if daily prayer was simply another thing to cross off the daily to-do list. As a rabbi, he was concerned by this lack of connection to the spiritual life, and realized that modern men needed to understand how these ancient prayer rituals could be relevant to their daily lives.

    Daven Your Age takes the rituals of “davening” and offers an adult approach. The first two parts discuss specific meaning in rituals surrounding the daily prayer services, specifically addressing why the minyan is important and why men should try to participate, how the minyan contributes to a sense of culture and community. Parts three, four, and five address the specific prayers of the daily service, with special attention to the Amida. Each prayer is carefully analyzed and its importance and applicability to adult life are examined.

    In the end, a thrice-daily ritual that might easily become just another “to-do” on the devout man’s list becomes instead a vital, meaningful service performed, not for the individual’s benefit, but for the good of the world, the country, and the community. Rabbi Grunstein’s Daven Your Age is  a valuable and encouraging guide for those who want to deepen their understanding of and engagement in the daily prayer service.


    (I received a review copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)


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